Snowless winter raises fears of forest fires

“We were already facing a very, very dry spring and not much precipitation is forecast.”

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A nearly snowless winter and a drought-like start to spring have firefighters warning of an early start to the fire season.

Ottawa Fire Services, which issued a ban on open burning over the weekend, responded to eight grass fires in the past 10 days, including one Monday afternoon near Hazeldean Road in Stittsville.

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“It is absolutely a concern. We were already looking at a very, very dry spring and not much precipitation was forecast,” said Fire Chief Paul Hutt.

80 per cent of the town area is rural land and the fire service has six rugged trucks that can respond to fires in off-road areas, he said. The fire service’s bushfire program has now been in operation for several weeks.

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“We are well prepared in this city to deal with those types of calls,” Hutt said.

While wildfires can and have occurred in city limits, the hardwood forests of eastern Ontario are not as vulnerable to wildfires as the evergreen forests of northern and western Canada, said Eric Boysen , a forestry engineer based in Maberly, west of Ottawa. .

“The risk is very intense for a very short period of time, but it dissipates quickly once the grass begins to green up,” Boysen said.

“It’s very dry. The leaf layer in a hardwood forest dries out and can cause a fire that burns very quickly, but rarely kills the trees. I would be much more concerned about coniferous forests,” said Boysen, who also serves as a volunteer firefighter.

“For starters, conifers are more flammable. You get a lot of tar and resin on their needles. And with the recent wind storms and ice storms, there are broken branches hanging from the trees and broken tops, and those things are more flammable. “There is a risk that the fire will reach the treetops.”

Boysen says it’s important to follow municipal fire bans and, if you’re allowed to burn, be prepared.

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“Have the tools on hand to be able to put out the fire if it escapes you. “It’s really just about being smart about it.”

Fire Smart Canada has some good advice for homeowners on their website. firesmartcanada.cahe said.

Last year was the most destructive wildfire season ever recorded in Canada, with more than 6,100 fires covering 16.5 million hectares, more than double the previous record set in 1989. Of those, 29 were classified as “megafires.” that consumed more than 100,000 hectares each, according to National Resources Canada.

A sickly blanket of reddish smoke covered the capital region and much of eastern North America for days, and smoke from Canadian wildfires reached as far as Europe.

The city closed outdoor pools and campgrounds due to smoke, while the Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival and the Midsummer Indigenous Festival ended early due to poor air quality.

In July 2012, Ottawa faced its own wildfire when fire crews spent nearly a week battling a persistent wildfire in Lime Kiln and Stony Swamp that ultimately consumed 40 hectares of greenbelt, the equivalent of 90 football fields. .

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In Alberta, the provincial government declared the start of its fire season 10 days earlier than the usual season of March 1 to October 31 and has allocated $2 billion of its budget for natural disasters such as wildfires and droughts.

It’s hard to say whether summer 2024 will be as bad as summer 2023 in Ontario. Like Alberta, Ontario is also prepared for more early fires due to the dry winter, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry said in an emailed response to questions.

“Fire activity can change rapidly in a given week, month or throughout the season and can also vary significantly from activity in previous years…. “While in the short term we are planning for fires in early spring, each fire season is highly variable and is based on actual climate trends developing throughout the fire season,” the ministry said.

Three factors contribute to fire risk, he said. Hot and dry climate; fuel such as dry brush and brush; and human activity, such as campfires and cigarettes.

“So far, indications for summer suggest a return to normal seasonal conditions in both temperature and rainfall amounts,” the ministry said.

Ontario deployed additional forest rangers on March 4 to bolster its response to the fires, the ministry said.

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